Lesley Gore – The Bubble Broke (Mercury)
Tommy Roe – Misty Eyes (ABC)
Janis Ian – Sweet Misery (Verve)
Millennium – Prelude/To Claudia On Thursday (Columbia)
Cast of Thousands – My Jenny Wears a Mini (Tower)
Sundowners – Sunny Day People (Decca)
Merry Go Round – Time Will Show The Wiser (A&M)
Association – Come On In (WB)
Kingsmen – Little Sally Tease (Wand)
Paul Revere & the Raiders – Louise (Columbia)
JK & Company – Crystal Ball (White Whale)
Blood Sweat and Tears – Smiling Phases (Columbia)
Kaleidoscope – Pulsating Dream (Epic)
New Zealand Trading Company – Oh What a Day (Memphis)
Rugbys – You I (Amazon)
I hope that the beginning of a new week finds you all well.
The summer is finally here, and the irony of my seemingly endless litany of complaints about its absence is not lost on me.
What better way to get the summer off to a rousing start than a new edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip (the 25th!), packed end to end with pop goodness. You get Sunset Strip, sunshine pop, garage pop, folk rock, psych pop, and even something a little heavy to wrap your ears around as you sit on the veranda sipping mint juleps and swatting flies.
Things get started with one of my favorite records (if you’ve been to Funky16Corners you’ll know that its soulful instrumental version by Gentleman June Gardner is a big fave too), ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ by Sonny and Cher. Thanks to the fact that most people never turn over their 45s, this song (the b-side of ‘I Got You Babe’) is not well known. It may also have something to do with the fact that in the S&C oeuvre, there is hardly another record as close to the sounds of 60s punk. ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ sounds like Sonny had the band take the recorder player from the a-side out into the alley and beaten soundly, so that they could work it out to the fullest extent. I never get tired of this one.
Lesley Gore first appeared here a few months back with her version of the song ‘Off and Running’ also recorded by the Mindbenders (and also posted here). Originating from the same LP (‘California Nights’) ‘The Bubble Broke’ is a window into the light pop take on a somewhat harder vibe. There are all the usual girl-group elements, but they’re tempered with hard hitting drums and just a taste of fuzz guitar (not to mention a great vocal by Gore) and some kind of cheap combo organ.
Tommy Roe was a solid hitmaker through the 60s but rarely did he make music as wonderful as that on the 1967 LP ‘It’s Now Winters Day’. This is due in large part to the involvement of the great Curt Boettcher and his traveling circus of musical compadres. Almost completely unknown to Joe Six-pack, Boettcher spent the 60s creating some of the finest pop music ever heard, both in his own projects (the Ballroom, Sagittarius, Millennium) and as a producer/arranger/composer for hire (working with big names like the Association and countless, more obscure artists). It was in the latter capacity that he helped Roe make his finest album. One of my favorite tracks from that album is the harmony tour de force ‘Misty Eyes’. Mixing a Bo Diddley beat, electric sitar and Boettcher’s patented waves of sunny harmony,’Misty Eyes’ manages to gather many of the hallmarks of the underground sound and wrap them up in a bundle of pure pop. Sometime in the not too distant future I’ll be putting together a mix of Boettcher’s best material, on his own, working with others, and interpreted by other artists that will feature some really interesting stuff (the Brady Bunch, anyone?).
That I continue to discover surprises in the early work of Janis Ian is illustrated by the fuzzed out track ‘Sweet Misery’, from her 1968 LP ‘The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink’. Backed once again by the cream of New York’s session heavies, Ian really rips into ‘Sweet Misery’ and the vibe once again borrows heavily from the garagey side of things.
Speaking of Curt Boettcher, the very apex of his art was the 1968 album by the Millennium. Whereas Sagittarius was as much Gary Usher’s project as it was his own, the Millennium saw Boettcher taking the wheel (often to the consternation of his collaborators) and driving to pop heaven at top speed. Though Boettcher only wrote about half the songs, the LP it is unmistakably his work. The medley that opens the Millennium’s sole LP ‘Begin’, ‘Prelude / To Claudia on Thursday’ is the best thing on a record packed to the rafters with wonders. ‘Prelude’, composed by ex-Music Machine members Ron Edgar and Doug Rhodes features Edgar’s pounding drums (making the rare Columbia 45 of the tune sought after by the crate digger set) is just under a minute and a half of sonic wonder, followed by ‘To Claudia on Thursday’ (written by guitarists Michael Fennelly and Joey Stec) which takes the sunshine pop idea and hones it to perfection. Marked by the odd sound of the cuica, ‘To Claudia on Thursday’ proves (like much of Boettcher’s best work) that it was possible to take all of the core elements of the bubblegum sound and create something of sublime and lasting beauty. If you haven’t heard the entire ‘Begin’ LP, track down the reissue, slap on the headphones and take a trip to pop heaven.
Taking a stab at pop from a garage band standpoint is Texas’ Cast of Thousands with ‘My Jenny Wears a Mini’. Though the name Stevie Ray Vaughan has long been associated with this band, he does not appear on most of their records, reportedly only joining a reconstituted version of the group later in their career. ‘My Jenny Wears a Mini’ is a great slice of garage pop, with a beat group vibe passed through walls of cheap guitars and combo organ, not to mention the fact that they manage to sing an ode to miniskirts with what sounds like a straight face.
The Sundowners are in many ways the perfect 60s pop curiosity. They managed to make some very cool 45s, toured with the Monkees and managed to appear (in various forms) on both ‘It Takes a Thief’ and ‘The Flying Nun’ TV shows. ‘Sunny Day People’ is a bright, Beatle-esque bit of sunshine pop with a guitar breakdown in the middle of the song that could have been lifted off of any of the Fabs mid-period records.
Emitt Rhodes has been a big favorite of mine since I found a copy of his first solo LP back in the mid-80s. Starting with the Palace Guard, Rhodes moved on to the Merry Go Round, recording a couple of 45s and one amazing LP before breaking up and sending him on his way to a stellar solo career. ‘Time Will Show the Wiser’ (covered in the UK by Fairport Convention) is one of the band’s finest songs, mixing the purest Sunset Strip folk rock with just a dusting of onrushing psychedelia.
The Association is the perfect example of a band that had several big hits, yet only got the respect they deserved decades later, and even then only from hardcore fans of the sunshine pop sound. They made some amazing records (some with the assistance of – yes – Curt Boettcher) that took the sound of their biggest hits and expanded upon it. ‘Come On In’, the opening track of 1968s ‘Birthday’ album is a fave.
Returning to the garage side of things, we have the Kingsmen with their version of Don and the Goodtimes’ ‘Little Sally Tease’. Written by Jim ‘Harpo’ Valley when he was a member of D&TG’s (before he joined Paul Revere and the Raiders), the tune is a Pacific Northwest garage punk classic. Though I prefer the Standells thundering take on the tune, the Kingsmen lay into it with all of the spirit and competence of a suburban garage band and there’s no denying that this approach (even with the wholly unnecessary horn section) works in spades.
Speaking of Paul Revere and the Raiders, I’ve gone on record here saying that they were one of the truly underrated bands of the 60s. Like the Association, they had more than their share of chart success, but their critical embrace still hasn’t come to fruition. Their version of Jesse Lee Kincaid’s (of LA’s Rising Sons) ‘Louise’ (also recorded by Keith Allison over the same backing track) is a slammer. A perfect example of the Raiders ability to streamline/supercharge the garage punk sound – perhaps what any competent 60s punk band would sound like if they had Terry Melcher producing their records – ‘Louise’ is a classic.
The mysterious JK & Company are back again, with the very brief, but also very garagey ‘Crystal Ball’ from their sole White Whale LP. ‘Crystal Ball’ almost sounds like it was lifted from a party/psych-out scene in an AIP film.
“Blood Sweat and Tears?!?!?” you shout with alarm? Hold steady friend, because first of all, I dig BS&T, especially David Clayton Thomas’ Canuck soul brother thing, and the tune I bring you today sees the first big rock horn band laying into Traffic’s ‘Smiling Phases’. To be sure, their approach is significantly less flowery than the original, but – and I think this version inspired Woody Herman to record his own jazzed up take on the tune – I think it works, especially the jazzy little breakdown when the piano comes in.
I was lucky enough recently to finally get my hands on a copy of what I consider to be one of the truly great albums of the mid-60s, ‘Side Trips’ by the Kaleidoscope. As hard as it is to believe, that in the midst of the psychedelic era there were actually TWO bands named the Kaleidoscope (one in the US and one in the UK), they were – against all odds – both excellent in their own ways. This Kaleidoscope, the LA based group that featured David Lindley, made some of the most interesting music of the era, mixing folk rock and psychedelia with world music, bluegrass and jazz. ‘Pulsating Dream’ is one the purest examples of psych-pop in their catalog.
The New Zealand Trading Company appeared in the last edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip with a number from the more psychedelic side of their sound. ‘Oh What a Day’ sees them channeling the Association, blended with a touch of UK psyche pop.
This edition of the Iron Leg Digital Trip closes out with a taste of what garage punk was like when it was transitioning into the Freak Flag sounds of Blue Cheer. The Rugbys hailed from Kentucky, and infused their pounding punk sound with overdriven (in every sense) guitar and vocals that would, like so many of their ilk, lay the ground for heavy metal.
I hope you dig the mix, and I’ll be back next week with some more groovy stuff.
PS Head over to Funky16Corners for a new funk 45 mix.